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Central Events in Chemistry


Source: Human Accomplishment by Charles Murray, pp 171-175

YearCountryEvent
-440GreeceDemocritus and Leucippus hypothesize that matter is composed of atoms.
750Arab WorldJabir ibn Hayyan prepares acetic acid, the first pure acid.
900Arab WorldFirst production of concentrated alcohol, by distilling wine.
1300GermanyFalse Geber describes the preparation of sulphuric acid.
1597GermanyLibavius' Alchemia is the first chemistry textbook, with detailed descriptions of many chemical methods.
1624BelgiumJan van Helmont recognizes that more than one air-like substance exists and coins the term gas to describe any compressible fluid.
1661EnglandRobert Boyle's Skeptical Chymist separates chemistry from medicine and alchemy; defines elements and chemical analysys.
1662EnglandRobert Boyle states Boyle's Law, that the volume occupied by a fixed mass of gas in a container is inversely proportional to the pressure it exerts.
1674GermanyHennig Brand discovers phosphorus, a.n. 15, the first element known to have been discovered by a specific person, and the first element not known in any earlier form.
1735SwedenGeorg Brandt discovers cobalt, a.n. 27, the first discovery of a metal not known to the ancients.
1751SwedenAxel Cronstedt discovers nickel, a.n. 28, the first metal since iron found to be subject to magnetic attraction.
1755ScotlandJoseph Black identifies "fixed air" (carbon dioxide), the first application of quantitative analysis to chemical reactions.
1766EnglandHenry Cavendish discovers "inflammable air" (hydrogen, a.n. 1).
1772FranceAntoine Lavoisier discovers that air is absorbed during combustion, and that diamond consists of carbon.
1772Scotland
England
Sweden
Daniel Rutherford, Carl Scheele, Joseph Priestley, and Henry Cavendish independently discover "mephitic air" (nitrogen, a.n. 7).
1773England
Sweden
Joseph Priestley and Carl Scheele independently discover "respirable air" (oxygen, a.n. 8).
1774-1925The discovery of the rest of naturally occuring elements becomes a central quest of chemists for the next century and a half. Most of these discoveries qualify as central events, but only the elements of special significance are included here.
1775FranceAntoine Lavoisier accurately describes combustion, discrediting phlogiston theory.
1779FranceAntoine Lavoisier discovers that the gas identified by Joseph Priestley and Carl Scheele is responsible for combustion. He names it oxygen.
1784EnglandHenry Cavendish discovers the chemical composition of water.
1785FranceClaude Berthollet determines the composition of ammonia.
1789FranceAntoine Lavoisier's Traité Élémentaire de Chemie, a founding document in quantitative chemistry, states the law of conservation of matter.
1797FranceJoseph Proust proposes his law of definite proportions, followed by experimental evidence obtained in 1799.
1800EnglandWilliam Nicholson and Anthony Carlisle discover that an electric current can bring about a chemical reaction (electrolysis), founding electro-chemistry.
1801FranceRene Haüy's four-volume Traité de Minéralogie founds crystallography.
1803EnglandJohn Dalton publishes the modern statement of atomic theory and introduces that concept of atomic weight.
1803FranceClaude Berthollet's Essai de Statique Chemique lays the foundation for understanding chemical reactions and is a step toward the law of mass action.
1805Germany
France
Fredrich Sertürner isolates morphine from laudanum, initiating the study of alkaloids.
1806FranceLouis Vauquelin isolates asparagine, first of the amino acids.
1811ItalyAmadeo Avogadro hypothesizes that all gases at the same volume, pressure, and temperature are made up of the same number of particles.
1813SwedenJöns Berzelius develops the foundation of universal chemical notation.
1814GermanyJoseph von Fraunhofer discovers that the relative positions of spectral lines is constant, forming the basis for modern spectroscopy.
1815FranceJoseph Gay-Lussac identifies the first organic radical (cyanogen, the cyano group).
1817FranceJoseph Caventou and Pierre Pelletier isolate chlorophyll.
1820GermanyJoseph von Fraunhofer invents the diffraction grating for studying spectra.
1823EnglandMichael Faraday produces the first laboratory temperatures below 0oF, enabling liquefication of gases, a founding event in cryogenics.
1825EnglandMichael Faraday discovers and isolates benzene.
1828GermanyFriedrich Wöhler prepares the organic compound urea from inorganic compounds, the first synthesis of an organic substance, founding organic chemistry.
1831ScotlandThomas Graham discovers Graham's Law, that the ratio of the speeds at which two different gases diffuse is inverse to the ratio of the square roots of the gas densities, a founding event in physical chemistry.
1836GermanyTheodore Schwann isolates pepsin, the first animal enzyme.
1836SwedenJöns Berzelius discovers a common force among catalytic reactions and introduces the terms catalysis and catalytic force.
1840GermanyChristian Schönbein discovers ozone.
1846FranceLouis Pasteur discovers crystal asymmetry.
1852EnglandEdward Frankland describes the phenomenon that later became known as valence.
1858GermanyFriedrich Kekulé establishes two major facts of organic chemistry: carbon has a valence of four and carbon atoms can chemically combine with one another.
1858Scotland
Germany
Archibald Couper and Friedrich Kekulé develop a system for showing organic molecular structure graphically.
1859GermanyGustav Kirchhoff and Robert Bunsen discover that each element is associated with characteristic spectral lines.
1859Scotland
Austria
James Maxwell develops the first extensive mathematical kinetic theory of gases, later augmented in collaboration with Ludwig Boltzmann.
1860ItalyStanislao Cannizzaro introduces a reliable method of calculating atomic weights, leading to acceptance of Avogadro's Hypothesis and opening the way to classification of the elements.
1863EnglandJohn Newland's Law of Octaves stimulates work on the table of elements.
1863NorwayCato Guldberg and Peter Waage discover the law of mass action, regarding the relationship of speed, heat, and concentration in chemical reactions.
1865GermanyFriedrich Kekulé discovers the structure of the benzene ring, enabling the solution of many problems of molecular structure.
1868England
France
Pierre Janssen and Joseph Lockyer discover helium, a.n. 2, based on spectral analysis rather than a physical specimen.
1869IrelandThomas Andrews identifies the critical temperature for liquifying gases.
1869RussiaDimitri Mendeleyev publishes a periodic table of the elements, including the prediction of undiscovered elements.
1873NetherlandsJohannes van der Waals provides a molecular explanation for the critical temperature above which gas can exist only as a gas.
1874Netherlands
France
Jacobus Van't Hoff and Joseph Le Bel independently discover that the four bonding directions of the carbon atom point to the four vertices of a regular tetrahedron, founding stereochemistry.
1877France
Switzerland
Louis Cailletet and Raoul Pictet independently liquefy oxygen, nitrogen, and carbon dioxide, the first liquefaction of gases.
1879USA
Germany
Ira Remsen and Constantin Fahlberg synthesize saccharin.
1884GermanyEmil Fischer discovers purines, which turn out to be an important part of nucleic acids, which in turn prove to be the key molecules of living tissues.
1884SwedenSvante Arrhenius introduces the theory of ionic dissociation.
1885SwitzerlandJohann Balmer develops a formula for the wavelengths at which hydrogen atoms radiate light.
1886FranceFerdinand Moissan isolates fluorine, a.n. 9, after 75 years of effort by others.
1895Scotland
Sweden
William Ramsay and Per Teodor Cleve independently discover helium on earth.
1898ScotlandJames Dewar invents a method of producing liquid hydrogen in quantity.
1901USAJokichi Takamine and John Abel independently isolate adrenaline, the first pure hormone.
1904EnglandFrederic Kipping discovers silicones.
1905GermanyRichard Willstätter discovers the structure of chlorophyll.
1906RussiaMikhail Tsvet invents chromatography for studying dyes, eventually applied to complex chemical mixtures generally.
1926USAJames Sumner prepares the first crystallized enzyme, urease.
1927England
USA
Clinton Davisson and George Thomson independently create large nickel crystals that exhibit X-ray diffraction, confirming Louis de Broglie's theory of matter waves.
1931USAHarold Urey discovers deuterium, heavy hydrogen.
1933England
Switzerland
Walter Haworth and Tadeus Reichstein synthesize vitamin C.
1934FranceIrène and Frédéric Joliot-Curie develop the first artificial isotope, a radioactive form of phosphporus.
1937USA
France
Emilio Segrè and Carlo Perrier prepare technetium, a.n. 43, the first artificial element.
1938SwitzerlandAlbert Hofmann and Arthur Stoll synthesize LSD, later (1943) recognized as a hallucinogen.
1944EnglandArcher Martin and Richard Synge invent paper chromatography, a faster form of chromatography that requires only a few drops of the substance being analyzed.
1949Derek Barton describes the conformation of a steroidal molecule having several six-membered carbon rings, changing the way organic chemists view molecules.